One of the most recent acts to hit the indie music scene with a unique take on cabaret and baroque pop, Antony Hegarty and his group the Johnsons are one of pop music most strangest and enchanting acts. The Johnsons consisting of Julia Kent on cello, drummer Parker Kindred, bassist Jeff Langston, Doug Wieselman on horns, violinist/arranger Maxim Moston, and guitarist/violinist Rob Moose features Hegarty on vocals, pianos, and organs as he's also the main songwriter. The band's 2005 sophomore release I Am a Bird Now drew rave reviews with critics as it won the prestigious Mercury Prize in Britain while landing on several critics top ten list. With the New York City-based act getting raves and contributing music to films including a cover of Knockin' On Heaven's Door for Todd Haynes' bio-pic of Bob Dylan entitled I'm Not There. In 2008, Antony Hegarty contributed vocals to the Hercules & Love Affair debut album that drew rave reviews opening more doors to Hegarty's unique vocal styles. In 2009, Hegarty and the Johnsons returned with a new album entitled The Crying Light.
Written and produced by Antony Hegarty with two songs co-written with other writers and performed by Antony and the Johnsons, The Crying Light is an album that maintains the sound of piano ballads, baroque pop arrangements, and cabaret-like vocal styles that feature Antony's unique, baritone, operatic-style vocals. While the sound is a bit broader and featuring no special guests like their last album, the album explores more new lyrical territory about the future in dramatic fashion from Hegarty's unique personality. While the album isn't as versatile as I Am a Bird Now, The Crying Light does prove that Antony and the Johnsons are one of indie-pop's most unique acts.
The album opener Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground is a piano ballad led by Antony's wailing, operatic vocals filled with melancholic lyrics. With a soft, violin performance in the background, harp plucks and a flute accompany Antony's vocals as it is the song's highlight in this somber ballad co-written by his brother Nick. Epilepsy Is Dancing is a more upbeat track with somber yet mid-tempo piano melodies and Antony's smooth vocal delivery. With an acoustic guitar in the background along with other string instruments in the background, the song's sullen lyrics playing to Antony's cabaret-style vocals are wonderfully dramatic along with its flourishing arrangements. One Dove is a dark, acoustic-laden track co-written by Barry Reynolds that features Antony's haunting, wailing vocals and eerie lyrics. With a soft piano accompaniment along with guitars, strings, and a soft bass drum beat in the background, it's truly one of the album's more haunting cuts that features a somber saxophone solo, a screeching violin, and wailing flute.
Kiss My Name is a smooth, mid-tempo track with thumping beats, melodic guitar arpeggios, flourishing piano, and Antony's smooth, wailing vocals. Featuring a sweeping, soothing violin accompaniment and desperate lyrics, it's a fantastic song that has Antony and the Johnsons going into a different tempo along with flourishing arrangements that are the highlight of the song. The album's title track opens with a brief string shimmer that leads to an acoustic ballad featuring Antony's wailing vocals and an accompanying acoustic guitar track. With melancholic lyrics and a piano accompaniment to play with its tone along with tingling melodies and soft claps with soothing strings, it's reveals the richness of the group itself. The album's leading single Another World is a wonderful piano ballad that features heavy but soothing notes along with wisping violin notes. With Antony's somber vocals playing up to the song's harrowing yet imagery-laden lyrics, it's a real standout cut from the album that includes an eerie violin screech in the background.
Daylight And The Sun arrives with a fade-in violin solo that swirls through song along with an accompanying cello. With Antony putting on a cabaret-like persona for the ballad, its imaginary lyrics filled with colorful description and soothing vocals make the song a highlight. Even as tempos change through its piano along with a heightened sound, it's a versatile track that helps Antony play up to his dramatic vocals in its arrangements and presentation. Aeon is another piano ballad that features a great, melodic piano accompaniment along with layers of strings in the background as it becomes a guitar-laden track. With Antony's wailing vocals and a melodic guitar accompaniment, it's a wonderful, dramatic song led by Antony's vocals filled with operatic-like lyrics to exemplify its sense of drama.
Dust And Water is an eerie track led by a chilling bass-like background that is later surrounded by Antony's haunting, operatic-like vocals. With its descriptive, chilling lyrics, it's Antony's vocals in its cabaret-like persona that is a real highlight to the song. The album closer Everglade is an operatic-like ballad with Antony's wailing vocals leading the way along with a somber piano accompaniment and low-sounding string arrangement with an angelic flute solo. With its melancholic lyrics, it's an amazing song filled with broad arrangements in its string and woodwind presentation as it plays up to the dramatic tone of the song.
While not as brilliant or as versatile as I Am a Bird Now, The Crying Light is still a brilliant album from Antony and the Johnsons thanks in part to Antony Hegarty's sparse, layered production and arrangements with help from Nico Muhly. Fans of the act will no doubt enjoy hearing Antony and the Johnsons' unique sound as it's a simpler record than I Am a Bird Now though its lack of special guests doesn't live up to the heights of I Am a Bird Now. In the end, The Crying Light solidifies Antony and the Johnsons as one of indie pop's best and most interesting acts.
Hercules & Love Affair-S/T